the water and the soil must start where the first raindrop falls."
- Lyndon B. Johnson,
Before Lyndon B. Johnson was a politician, he was a child of the land.
Growing up in the Texas Hill Country amid grazing goats, sheep, cattle and sparkling, clear springs, he inherently understood the relationship among sky, land and water. Like most Texans, LBJ felt a strong kinship to the land because, since the days of the Republic, our lives and livelihoods have been shaped by the diverse landscape that characterizes our home.
In recent years, though, fewer people have enjoyed the benefits of growing up on the land. Farms and ranches have given way to cities and suburbs, severing the direct, physical ties to the land and nature's cycles. Consequently, a lack of understanding of how natural processes on the land influence water has developed in our state.
Ground and surface water supplies originate with the rain that falls on the land and is captured by complex, large-scale ecological processes involving many variables including plants, animals, soils and geology.
When these processes function optimally, floods are reduced, aquifers are replenished, and water is released more slowly and steadily into springs, streams, rivers, lakes and eventually our bays and estuaries. If the land is healthy, the quality and quantity of water - both surface and groundwater - available to our citizens reflect that condition. When the natural processes are working well across millions of acres of open, rural land, the contribution to the state's water supply can be tremendous, "creating" more water for all Texans.
Moreover, when conscientious land stewards ably manage their resources (as they do every day), they are ranching water just as surely as they are ranching cattle or wildlife. Unfortunately, this contribution is often overlooked or misunderstood.
Well-managed land is the greatest water supply-enhancement device on the planet. With adequate and appropriate vegetative cover, land is Mother Nature's sponge. In Texas, open space land covers almost 150 million acres. A sponge of this magnitude cannot be overlooked when the objective is making the most of every drop that falls from the sky.
We must include voluntary land stewardship - on a grand scale - as one of the cornerstone solutions for water issues in Texas because it is complementary, cost-effective, sustainable, efficient, environmentally sensitive, multi-faceted and governable.
By harnessing the power of the free market and providing incentives to private landowners, we can help ensure that these land stewards continue to voluntarily do good things for water in Texas. Their efforts are vitally important because voluntary land stewardship - enhancing the catchment and supply-enhancement power of the land - helps maximize the effectiveness of all other water management strategies.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, voluntary land stewardship allows policy-makers and water managers to consider water at its origins, not just at its destination. The only way Texas' water policy will be truly comprehensive is when supply - where the first raindrop falls on the land - is emphasized in policy with the same degree of enthusiasm as demand.
David K. Langford of Comfort is vice president emeritus of the Texas Wildlife Association, focusing primarily on water issues, and was CEO of the organization for 12 years. He is a member of the Governor's Environmental Flows Advisory Committee.